Top 25 Best Public Colleges in the US | 2022 Rankings

Some of the greatest colleges in the country are public schools. These colleges are government-funded, tend to have larger and more diverse student bodies, and are filled with opportunities galore. Known for their student organizations, internship opportunities, intramural sports, public colleges also have many academic resources.

This top 25 list puts the spotlight on the best public schools in the US. Below you’ll find all types of institutions—from colleges to universities, schools in bustling cities, schools in more rural areas, and colleges of all sizes.

If you’re interested in going to a public college, check out this list of fantastic options!

Top 25 Best Public Colleges

A public undergraduate school, the United States Naval Academy’s motto, in Latin, is “Ex Scientia Tridens”, or “From Knowledge, Seapower.” It was established in 1845 and saw disruption and riots during the Civil War that almost caused the government to move the school. Today, just over 4,500 students attend.
Location Annapolis, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,538
Thomas Jefferson founded The University of Virginia. The school had a Board of Visitors that included Jefferson, James Monroe, and James Madison. Well known for its secret societies, the school is also known for their sporting accomplishments. The Cavaliers, who wear orange and blue, have 21 championship wins. Over 25,000 students are currently attending.
Location Charlottesville, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 25,012
The University of California in Los Angeles is a very large school with over 44,000 students. A public land-grant research university, it’s the second-oldest branch of the school system. Its motto is Fiat lux, or “Let there be Light.” Famous alumni have included Sean Astin, Francis Ford Coppola, Michael Morhaime, Jim Morrison, and Troy Aikman. It has an acceptance rate of 12%.
Location Los Angeles, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 44,371
A fairly large school, the University of Michigan has over 48,000 students attending, which includes about 31,300 undergraduate students. The two most commonly chosen majors are Computer and Information Sciences and Business Administration. However, economics, mechanical engineering, and experimental psychology are also popular.
Location Ann Arbor, MI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 48,090
The University of California – Berkeley has over 43,000 students, with over 31,000 undergraduates and just under 12,000 graduates. It was the state’s first land-grant university and the first campus in the school system. The California Golden Bears, competing in the Pac-12 conference, have won over 100 national championships.
Location Berkeley, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 43,185
The University of North at Chapel Hill goes by several different names including UNC, Chapel Hill, and Carolina. It’s a public research university and the flagship of the school system. Enrolling students in 1795, it’s one of the oldest public schools in the country. UNC became coeducational in 1877 and began admitting African-American graduate students in 1951.
Location Chapel Hill, NC
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 29,877
The second-oldest institution of higher education in the United States, King William III and Queen Mary II founded the aptly named College of William & Mary in 1693. A public research university, alumni have included Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, John Tyler, James Comey, and Jon Stewart. The mascot is the Griffin.
Location Williamsburg, VA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 8,773
"Scientiæ Cedit Mare," or “the sea yields to knowledge,” is the motto of the United States Coast Guard Academy. It was founded in 1876 and is the smallest of the five academies for service in the United States. The most popular major is political science and government, but business management, civil engineering, and oceanography are also top choices.
Location New Haven, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,071
The United States Military Academy is also known as West Point or the Academy. Only 12% of applicants will receive acceptance letters, but 83.4% of these students will go on to attend. Their motto is Duty • Honor • Country. The entire site of the school is a national landmark and includes historic sites, a museum, and more.
Location West Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,457
The United States Air Force Academy has over 4,000 students attending. The school has an 11% acceptance rate and is extremely competitive as nominations are divided among Congressional districts. Their motto is “Integrity First, Service before self, Excellence in all we do.” Their mascot is, appropriately, the Falcon.
Location USAFA, CO
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 4,304
The University of Maryland at College Park is a larger school with over 30,000 undergraduates and over 10,000 graduates. A majority of incoming students attending are from Maryland, New York, and New Jersey. It’s often called a “Public Ivy,” because of its comparable education to Ivy League schools, and has extremely high research activity. Computer Science is the most popular major.
Location College Park, MD
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 40,743
A very large school, the University of Florida has over 52,000 students, with about 35,400 undergraduates and 17,000 graduates. Part of the Southeastern Conference, they offer a wide variety of sports from football to gymnastics and have over 500 athletes. The team members are known as the Gators and wear orange and blue uniforms.
Location Gainesville, FL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 52,407
Also referred to as Georgia Tech, this public research university was founded in 1885 as part of the Reconstruction plans post Civil War. At first, it only offered degrees in Mechanical Engineering. In 1901, it would also offer Chemical, Civil, and Electrical engineering. Today, the top two majors are Computer and Information Sciences and Mechanical Engineering.
Location Atlanta, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 36,302
Also known as UT Austin, UT, or Texas, the University of Texas at Austin was founded in 1883, but the first mention of it can be traced back to 1827. Famous alumni include Wes Anderson, James Baker, Matthew McConaughey, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. The two most popular majors at UT are Biological Sciences and Economics.
Location Austin, TX
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 51,090
The southernmost campus of the University of California system, it is located close to the Pacific Ocean. The school covers over 200 undergraduate programs, 19 organized research units, and boasts the region’s only academic Health System. The school has a 93% first year retention rate. Some alumni of the San Diego school include Angela Davis, Mike Judge, and David J. Peterson.
Location San Diego, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 38,736
The University of Georgia has an acceptance rate of just over 45% and many students will go on to major in Finance, Psychology, and Biology. It’s one of the oldest public schools in the United States (founded in 1785). This Public Ivy university has quite a few famous alumni graduates including state governors, football players, scientists, Pulitzer Prize winners, and more.
Location Athens, GA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 38,920
Also known as UCI or UC Irvine, this public land-grant research university offers 87 undergraduate degrees and 129 graduate and professional degrees. The UC Irvine Anteaters are part of the Big West Conference. 53 alumni have gone on to compete in the Olympics. Biology is the most commonly chosen major at the school.
Location Irvine, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 36,908
The University of Wisconsin - Madison was the first public university in the state as it was founded when Wisconsin received statehood in 1848. Their motto is “Numen Lumen” or “Divine Light.” It’s also the largest employer in the state as it has over 21,600 faculty and staff. There are 136 undergraduate majors with Economics, Computer and Information Sciences, and Biology being the most popular.
Location Madison, WI
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 44,257
Part of the University of California system, the Santa Barbara campus is located on the Campus Point State Marine Conservation Area. Econometrics and Quantitative Economics and Sociology are by far the most commonly chosen majors, but Experimental Psychology, Communication, and Biology are also top choices.
Location Santa Barbara, CA
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 26,314
The University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign is a public land-grant research university. It was one of 37 universities that came out of the Morrill Land-Grant Act. When the school opened, there were only 77 students and 2 faculty members. Today, over 50,000 students attend, including over 34,000 undergraduates.
Location Champaign, IL
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 51,605
The United States Merchant Marine Academy’s motto is Acta Non Verba in Latin, or “Deeds not Words” in English. The Academy accepts just under 25% of applicants and the only available majors to students are Marine Science/Merchant Marine Officer, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Systems Engineering.
Location Kings Point, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 1,025
The University of Connecticut campus is 4,400 acres and just 90 minutes from Boston. It was founded in 1881 and originally known as the Storrs Agricultural School. They accept just under 50% of applicants. UConn is also considered a Public Ivy and has produced famous scholars, actors, authors, inventors, and entrepreneurs.
Location Storrs, CT
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 27,280
A land-grant research university, Ohio State is known as a Public Ivy. Getting its start in 1870, it was originally known as the Ohio Agriculture and Mechanical College. The Buckeyes take part in the Big Ten Conference and are well known for their football program. With over 1,000 athletes, other popular sports at the school include track, baseball, ice hockey, and fencing.
Location Columbus, OH
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 61,391
New Brunswick is one of the regional campuses of Rutgers University, and the oldest of the three. The school has 19 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools, with a high number of undergraduates majoring in Psychology, Computer and Information Sciences, Biology, and Human Resources Management. They have a 67% acceptance rate.
Location New Brunswick, NJ
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 50,173
Part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, Binghamton University sees most of their incoming students come from the home state, though many will also come from New Jersey. The Bearcats compete in sports such as soccer, lacrosse, swimming, and track. Baxter the Bearcat is their mascot.
Location East Vestal, NY
Institution Type Public
Student Enrollment 18,124

Interested in any of these schools? Check out College Raptor’s free match tool to see if they’re a good fit for you!

Methodology

Colleges are ranked based on a combination of factors, including graduation rates, campus diversity, endowment per student, and other data as reported via the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for the most recently-available enrollment year. Some colleges may have been excluded from rankings based on certain criteria, including specialization and classification. Learn about our full methodology.

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